The World, Great and Small <

The ancients called man a world in miniature, and that is well-said, because indeed man is made of earth, water, air, and fire, and thus his body is like the Earth. Just as man has bones as a support and framework for his flesh,

so the world has stone to support the Earth …
Leonardo da Vinci
Paris MS A, fol. 55v. Translation: Amanda DeMarco




Visual arts, science, and technology were closely intertwined in 15th-century Italy. At the same time, the individual disciplines were part of the evolution of a more comprehensive worldview and the intensive exploration of the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
The worldview at large continued to rely on the geocentric tradition handed down from antiquity, with the Earth as the center of the universe surrounded by different hierarchically arranged spheres, from the sphere of water to the sphere of the fixed stars. The steady growth of knowledge, due not least to the geographical insights gained by voyages of discovery, increasingly called this view into question. In addition, intensified studies of nature in general and of the human body in particular, expanded knowledge of the world on the small scale.
It was hoped that this would lead not only to advances in science, medicine, and artistic representation, but also to a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles of life. The quest for such knowledge of nature was a central motif in Leonardo da Vinci’s creative work. The rapid development of printing continually increased the knowledge sources available to the artist-scientist, facilitating his search for an integrative worldview. At the same time, he was able to help shape this worldview through his own contributions: on a small scale through his analytical studies of the human body, and on a large scale through maps and depictions of astronomical phenomena.


Near and Distant Views <

Regiomontanus, Johannes.


ca. 1980

For a long period the astrolabe was the most important working instrument for astronomers. Probably in use as early as antiquity, it was developed further by Arab astronomers around 800 CE and was then used throughout the European Middle Ages until the mid-17th century. Less a measuring instrument than a combination of analog calculator and rotatable star chart, it enabled a large number of widely different and complex applications such as measuring time, calculating dates, and determining locations or elevations. Made of superimposed rotatable layers that represent a stereometric projection of the celestial sky, it can be explained as a two-dimensional armillary sphere. A picturesque legend about the astrolabe says that it originated from a celestial globe that the astronomer Ptolemy dropped while riding a mule that was then trodden flat by the animal.



    Saunders, Harold H. 1984. All the Astrolabes. Oxford: Senecio.